South Sudan Media and Telecoms Landscape Guide

Cover: South Sudan Media and Telecoms Landscape Guide
(credit: Internews)

Infoasaid produced this media landscape guide about South Sudan in February 2012.

Media overview

  • Radio is the main source of news and information for people in South Sudan.
  • Most of the population now lives within the reach of FM and Medium Wave broadcasts.
  • New radio stations have mushroomed in the state capitals and other large towns since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005.
  • By early 2012, there were more than 30 radio stations on air across the country. Many of these were set up by churches and community organisations backed by international donors.
  • However, much of the rural population still lives in remote villages beyond the reach of FM and Medium Wave broadcasts.
  • For them crackly Short Wave broadcasts and conversations with travellers passing through are their only link with the outside world.
  • Information and advice delivered face-to-face by word of mouth continues to be important in remote rural areas.
  • Local chiefs and religious leaders command respect in village communities and play a key role in spreading knowledge and forming opinions.
  • The largest ethnic groups in Sudan are the Dinka and the Nuer.
  • At least half of all Southern Sudanese probably speak a dialect of Dinka or Nuer as their mother tongue.
  • However, the official languages of government and business are English and Arabic.
  • The main lingua franca of South Sudan is pidgin Arabic, often referred to as Simple Arabic or Juba Arabic.
  • Since 2005, English has become the preferred language of government, business and education in Southern Sudan.
  • The growing popularity of English has been encouraged by Southern Sudan’s close economic and cultural ties with neighboring Kenya and Uganda and the strong influence of Anglophone Christian missionaries.
  • Using English rather than Arabic also helps to emphasize the difference in culture, religion and politics between South Sudan and the Islamic North.
  • The increasing importance of English in Southern Sudan is reflected by its prominence in the local media.
  • Nearly all the newspapers published in Southern Sudan are written in English. The language is also widely used on radio and television.
  • However, English is the language of the educated elite. It is not widely spoken or understood outside the main towns.
  • A media audience survey of 1,546 people in Southern Sudan undertaken by the Swiss-based Fondation Hirondelle in 2007 found that only 4% of respondents thought they could speak English well.
  • About 60 different African languages are spoken across Southern Sudan.
  • Other languages are only used by a scattering of small and isolated communities.
  • Local radio stations outside the capital broadcast mainly in the tribal languages spoken within their broadcast coverage area.
  • The 2009 National Baseline Household Survey found that only 27% of adults could read and write.
  • However, it indicated that the literacy for young people in the 15 to 24 age group was much higher at 40%.
  • The 2007 Fondation Hirondelle survey, entitled “Media Access and Use in Southern Sudan,” showed that radio was the main source of information for the population as a whole.
  • 59% of respondents cited the radio as a source of information, but only 45% said it was their most important source.
  • The other two most important sources of information mentioned were word of mouth and the church.
  • 42% of respondents said they got information by word of mouth and 37% said this was their most important source of information.
  • 42% of respondents said they got information from the church, but this was less trusted as a source.
  • Only 10% said the church was their most important source of information and only 11% described it as a reliable source.
  • 14% of respondents said they got information from newspapers and 13% cited television. Neither of these media was regarded as reliable.
  • The South Sudan Media Survey, conducted in December 2008 by Consumer Options for USAID, also concluded that radio was the most important source of information in South Sudan.
  • 98% of respondents to this survey cited radio as a source of information. 71% said it was their most important source.
  • 64% of respondents to the USAID survey also cited the church as a source of information.
  • Other important sources of information highlighted were word of mouth (45%), mobile phone (39%) and television (37%).
  • However, the USAID survey of 1,194 people had a strong urban bias.
  • It was conducted in and near six large towns. Most of the people interviewed had been to school and could speak some English.
  • However, four out of five South Sudanese live in rural villages, most of which are beyond the reach of terrestrial TV broadcasts and mobile network coverage.
  • Mobile phone and TV usage in the population as a whole is therefore likely to be much lower than the USAID survey indicates.
  • All the same, media consumption habits are changing fast.
  • Many new radio stations have opened and the mobile phone network has expanded considerably since both media audience surveys were carried out.
  • Fondation Hirondelle was due to publish the results of a new media audience survey in early 2012.
  • Southern Sudan covers 640,000 square km. Its territory is roughly equivalent in size to Somalia or Afghanistan.
  • But there are few roads and most of those which do exist are little more than dirt tracks. The majority are closed for several months of the year by seasonal flooding.
  • The telephone landline network was torn up during the civil war and has not been replaced.
  • However, the mobile phone network has expanded rapidly since the return of peace in 2005.
  • It now covers all of South Sudan’s main towns and many of the main roads that link them.
  • South Sudan’s largest mobile phone operator, Zain, estimated in 2011 that about 1.3 million people had mobile phones or the potential to buy and use them.
  • The SPLM government in Juba has encouraged the establishment of private FM radio stations and these have proliferated.
  • By early 2012 the government had established state-run radio stations in nine of the the country’s 10 state capitals.
  • Aweil, the capital of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state was the only state capital without a government radio station. However, it did have a government-run TV station and two non-government FM stations could be heard clearly in the town.
  • These were Radio Miraya, the UN radio station, and the Internews-supported community radio station, Nhomlaau FM, based in nearby Malualkon.
  • Several draft laws to protect freedom of expression and regulate the media have been drawn up. But by early 2012, none of them had been approved by parliament and promulgated.
  • Media development organisations and pro-democracy groups are concerned that this situation creates a dangerous lack of clarity for both journalists and government officials.
  • They point out that the current legal vacuum enables political leaders and government officials to act arbitrarily and with impunity to limit freedom of expression whenever they wish to do so.
  • According to local and international media sources, the SPLM retains tight political control of government radio and television.
  • Furthermore, the SPLM authorities often use a heavy hand to curb opposition access to the private media.
  • During the campaign for the 2009 presidential and legislative elections, security agents raided two independent radio stations in Juba, Liberty FM and Bakhita Radio, after they aired opposition criticisms of the South Sudan government.
  • Both stations were also closed briefly by the government in March 2010 after allowing opposition politicians to express their views on air.
  • Pro-democracy groups have documented numerous other instances of journalists from other media being arrested or harassed by security officials.
  • Professional standards in journalism are low. Very few South Sudanese journalists have received professional training.
  • Many journalists are former refugees educated in Kenya and Uganda who began working in the media in those countries.
  • The South Sudan government operates medium wave radio stations in Juba, Wau, Bentiu and Malakal.
  • It also operates FM stations in Juba, Wau, Bentiu, Malakal, Bor, Torit, Kwajok, Yambio and Rumbek.
  • These are operated through an umbrella network known as South Sudan Radio. However each station in the network produces and broadcasts its own programming and is largely autonomous.
  • Veronica Gordon, a Director at South Sudan Radio, said that by early 2012 it was technically possible to link up all the stations in the network in order to broadcast important programmes live right across the nation.
  • But she said this was only done occasionally to provide live coverage of major national events due to the high cost involved.
  • The broadcast output of South Sudan Radio’s FM stations is heavily influenced by the local SPLM political leaders and senior administrators in each state.
  • There are also four independent radio networks which have developed extensive coverage of Southern Sudan:
    • Radio Miraya is a radio station set up in 2006 by the United Nations Mission (UNMIS) in Sudan in partnership with the Swiss-based Fondation Hirondelle. It broadcasts from Juba on 26 FM relay stations across Southern Sudan and on short wave. In early 2012 Miraya was planning to increase its coverage still further through the construction of new relay stations and the installation of more powerful transmitters on some of its existing masts.
    • Catholic Radio Network (CRN) is a network of nine local radio stations set up by the Roman Catholic Church since 2006. It claims to reach a total potential audience of more than four million people. The network has a training centre in Wau and a central news room in Juba. CRN has eight affiliated FM radio stations across South Sudan. It also operates a small FM station serving the Christian communities in the disputed Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan State in Sudan. All these stations are linked by V-sat to the network centre in Juba. The satellite link enables centrally produced sound clips and scripts to be distributed electronically for local broadcasting. Formerly called the Sudan Catholic Radio Network, the CRN officially shortened its name to the Catholic Radio Network in early 2012.
    • Sudan Radio Service (SRS) broadcasts into Southern Sudan and Darfur from Nairobi on short wave. The station is financed by the US government. Its main studios are in Nairobi, but it also has news rooms in Juba and Khartoum. In 2010, SRS also launched an FM station in Juba. Since then, it has progressively transferred more of its programme production from Nairobi to Juba.
    • Internews-supported community radio stations. The US-based media development organisation Internews supports a network of four FM radio stations in remote towns of South Sudan and two more in disputed areas outside South Sudan’s internationally recognized borders. All these stations are linked by satellite to the Internews country office in Juba. Internews claimed in August 2011 that together the six stations reached 1.7 million listeners.
  • Several other local FM stations have sprung up.
  • Some are owned by community groups, some by Christian missionary organisations and others by private businessmen.
  • Given the failure of FM and Medium Wave broadcasts to reach many parts of Southern Sudan, Short Wave radio still plays an important role in the territory.
  • However, wherever FM is available, it remains the medium of choice.
  • Local broadcasters using short wave include Radio Miraya, SRS and Radio Peace, a station run from Nairobi by a US Christian evangelist organisation.
  • BBC World Service is widely listened to on short wave in English and Arabic. It also broadcasts on FM in Juba, Malakal, Wau and Yambio.
  • The South Sudan government operates a television service in Juba and a handful of other large towns, but this only reaches a small and largely urban audience.
  • Newspapers barely circulate outside Juba and the other main towns. Newspapers are only read by the urban English-speaking educated elite.
  • Two daily newspapers, The Citizen and The Juba Monitor, are published and printed in Juba.
  • Most of the rest are weeklies that are printed in Kampala or Nairobi and are flown into Juba.
  • Internet use is even more restricted than newspaper readership. However news websites are an important news channel for enabling South Sudanese in the diaspora to keep up with events at home.
  • The independent English language news website, the Sudan Tribune, focuses heavily on Southern Sudan.
  • The Gurtong Trust, an NGO set up by a South Sudanese IT expert living in Europe, also runs a news website that focuses on Southern Sudan.

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